WASHINGTON — Four Democratic senators demanded on Saturday that the Bush administration explain its decision to post documents from Saddam Hussein’s covert nuclear program on a now-shuttered federal Web site.
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The lawmakers told President Bush’s director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, that it was “shocking that sensitive documents directly related to the design of a nuclear weapon were made public by the executive branch.”
Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada, Carl Levin of Michigan, Joe Biden of Delaware and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia also questioned whether political pressure from congressional Republicans played a role.
The letter was released just days before congressional elections in which Democrats hope to regain control of the Senate.
Review already under way, officials say
Negroponte on Thursday suspended public access to the site Thursday night, after The New York Times asked officials whether the site provided too much information on making atomic bombs for an article it published Friday. Negroponte, who had ordered the documents released, also began a review of the consequences, including who accessed the documents.
Negroponte’s spokesman, Chad Kolton, declined to comment on the letter. He noted that Negroponte already has called for a review.
“We disclosed the initiation of a full review of this issue earlier this week,” Kolton said by e-mail to The Associated Press.
Fuels debate over Iraqi WMDs
The documents, mostly in Arabic, were posted since March on a federal Web site called the “Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal.”
Administration officials say the site was a repository for millions of pages the U.S. government found in Iraq the past 15 years.
The matter adds to the pre-election debate over the threat Iraq poses and which political party is best on security and guarding secrets.
The senators say the Web site was intended to bolster support for Bush’s claims that Saddam possessed banned weapons and had ties to al-Qaida.
The senators said it appeared “the administration, under pressure from the chairmen of the congressional intelligence committees and others, has released documents that could facilitate the efforts of terrorists and rogue states to acquire nuclear weapons designs.”
They asked Negroponte whether intelligence agencies initially opposed the Web site, but the administration overrode those concerns.
The site represents “a threat to the security of the American people,” according to the letter.
NBC News' chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell as well as The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.